First-gen Afro-Latina Dr. Angel Jones is an educator, activist, and critical race scholar whose research explores the impact of racism on the mental health of Black students with a focus on racial microaggressions, Racial Battle Fatigue, and gendered-racism.
Being in academia is not for the faint of heart. In addition to the seemingly infinite years of grad school, the 200-page dissertation, presenting at conferences that often cost more than their worth, and the hamster wheel race to full professorship, you are also met with the soul-crushing reality that academia is less about the discovery of new knowledge and more about the creation of new robots to join the academic assembly line. Add race and gender to the mix and the plot immediately thickens.
As a Black woman in academia, as well as in the world more broadly, I am constantly bombarded by what Dr. Joini Lewis calls gendered-racial microaggressions (GRMs), which refers to subtle and everyday verbal, behavioral, and environmental expressions of oppression based on the intersection of one’s race and gender. Whether it’s being told by a white female professor that the only reason I wear my hair natural must be because I’m too stressed to straighten it, or a white male professor constantly confusing me with the only other Black woman in my program, I am reminded that I am not welcome nor wanted in that space.
And as much as I’d love to say that I am only made to feel like that by white non-Latinx colleagues, I can’t. The truth is, one of the most uncomfortable, anti-Black spaces I experience within academia is when I’m around non-Black Latinx scholars. They make it clear, whether consciously or subconsciously, that they see me as an outsider. To them, I am a Black woman (a title that I wear proudly), but not a Black Latina, or a Black Boricua, or a Black Puerto Rican. It’s as if their deep-seated anti-Blackness causes them to see me as “either/or” instead of “both/and.” This usually manifests itself through absence, erasure, or denial of identity. For example, while at an academic conference, I was invited to attend an event for Latinx students and faculty. My immediate thought was, “Hell no. You already know what it’s gonna be like.” I often feel judged or ignored in Latinx spaces within academia, so I tend to avoid Latinx-specific events. However, a senior scholar sponsored my ticket, so I decided to go. Within the first five minutes, I regretted my decision.
As soon as I got on the shuttle to the venue, I was met with stares and looks of confusion. Looks that said to me, “what is she doing here? Is she on the right shuttle? Does she know this is for the Latinx event?” My mind knows it’s speculation, but my heart believes it beyond a shadow of a doubt, which is often the case with microaggressions. We can’t always “prove” them, but we can most certainly feel them. I was tempted to turn around and get off the shuttle, but I decided to stick it out. When we got to the venue, it became overwhelmingly clear that I was an outsider. Out of over 100 people, I was the only Afro-Latina (to my knowledge). And for those who are wondering how being the only Afro-Latina in the room relates to microaggressions – what I experienced is known as an environmental microaggression which is defined as “something in a person’s environment that sends a message of invalidation of a marginalized group.” I was further made to feel my group identity was being invalidated by the questions I was being asked.
While others in the room were being asked typical academic conference questions — “which institution are you at?”, “Are you presenting?”, “What are your research interests?” – I was getting questions about my family, my ability to speak Spanish, and how many times I’ve been to Puerto Rico. It was as if I was being vetted or asked to verify my Latinx heritage. It was blatant and insulting. I got up from the table, sat on a bench outside, and cried. I was so overwhelmed and so discouraged that I decided to go back to the hotel. Being ostracized in academia hurts, but having it happen in what should be your own community cuts even deeper.
Being an Afro-Latina in academia is also difficult because of how often we are ignored by our institution. For example, for Latinx Heritage Month, there was a long list of activities but not a single one addressed the experiences of Afro-Latinxs or our African ancestry. There also wasn’t any representation with regard to the influential Latinxs that were highlighted. When I brought this to the attention of the coordinating office, their response was “well, if you want to do an event, you can.” I was disappointed by the response because, instead of holding themselves accountable for the oversight (or intentional omission) and correcting the issue, they put the onus on me. Although I was frustrated and didn’t believe the responsibility should have been placed on me, I put together an event anyway because I wanted to make sure that Afro-Latinx students didn’t feel as ignored as I did. I decided to do a workshop on anti-Blackness in the Latinx community which allowed me to center the experiences of Afro-Latinxs while also calling attention to the multiple ways anti-Blackness shows up including erasure and omission.
Ironically, one of the only times institutions don’t ignore us is when they want to use us to simultaneously check boxes. There have been several times that I have been invited to speak on a panel because I satisfy their unspoken quota. For example, I was asked to be on a panel about what it’s like to be a professor of color. When discussing who else to invite, one of the coordinators said, “we have Angel, so that kills two birds with one stone” as I’m both Black and Latina, as if I’m some two-for-one diversity special.
Although there is a part of me that has considered never going to another Latinx event again, the community-driven advocate in me won’t let that happen. Instead, I create spaces that center and celebrate ALL Latinas. Spaces that are open, welcoming, and intentional. Spaces where other Afro-Latinas never have to question their sense of belonging. I also focus my research on Afro-Latina identity and anti-Blackness within the Latinx community. I use my work and my platform to tell our stories and to make sure our voices are no longer left out of the conversation. Now academia, including anti-Black Latinx scholars, has no choice but to see and hear me. To see and hear US.